The importance of Phuket’s mangroves

Mangrove forests are an overlooked attraction in Phuket. These are not where you will find most tourists, who generally prefer our sunny beaches and lively nightlife, but with the recent announcement that the forests to the east of Phuket Town will be developed into an eco-friendly attraction. -tourist, this may change soon.

JThese dense thickets of gnarled-rooted trees, which grow out of the muddy ground, filled with salt water, were once mistaken for worthless swamps that served no purpose but to breed mosquitoes.

However, once you understand their interconnectedness with surrounding ecosystems and how they protect our island from flooding and erosion and are home to thousands of species of insects and animals, you will begin to see how important they are. are amazing and beautiful.

What are mangroves

Phuket’s mangroves line the east coast of the island, stretching from Cape Panwa in the south to Saphan Hin and Koh Siray in the middle to Baan Bang Rong and Baan Ao Kung in the north.

In the fight against climate change, they are one of our most powerful weapons and can sequester four to five times more CO2 than a tropical rainforest of comparable size. Each hectare of mangrove can store approximately 554,000 kg of carbon, making it one of the most important earth defences.

The reason these salt-tolerant trees and shrubs act as storage powerhouses is that when the leaves and branches fall into the low-oxygen soil, they don’t decompose and their carbon is stored there, unlike a ordinary forest where organic matter eventually degrades and releases its CO2.

This is also due to the complex root system of mangrove trees which captures sediment and turns it into soil, which builds new roots. This combination of soil and root construction allows mangroves to pull large amounts of carbon from the air and store it in the tree and soil.

The value of mangroves

Not only do these forests store carbon, but their tree branches are also home to monkeys, birds, snakes and lizards, while their submerged roots serve as nurseries for fish, crabs, lobsters and other marine life.

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Their true value emerged in 2004 after the tsunami that devastated Phuket. Areas where mangrove forests were left standing fared much better than those that were demolished. Indeed, when storm surges hit coastlines, densely populated trees bear the brunt of the force of the waves, often sparing the villages behind them by reducing flooding and erosion.

Mangroves also help keep the ocean clean by absorbing pollution and excess nutrients from fertilizers, which can end up in the ocean and cause algal blooms, which lead to dead zones.

These forests are so precious that a study estimates that over their lifetime, each hectare provides about US$600,000 of services, which translates to about US$37,500 per year.

Despite their immense economic value, it is estimated that between 50 and 60% of Thailand’s mangroves have been destroyed.

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According to Dr. Vipawee, a biologist and botanist at Prince Songkhla University, from the 1970s to the 1990s, the mangroves were transformed into shrimp farms, cut down for their wood, made into charcoal briquettes and turned into real estate. Although protected today, mangrove forests are still threatened by pollution, developers and illegal encroachments.

Save the mangroves

The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) is responsible for maintaining the mangrove forests, but with little funding the government is turning to tourism. Ratsada Municipality recently announced that the area east of Phuket Town and north of Koh Siray will be used for ecotourism, starting at 100 rai. it will eventually expand to 1,234 rai.

However, using tourism to protect mangroves is nothing new. Baan Bang Rong, located northeast of Phuket, launched a successful community tourism program in 2015 as a way to monetize and protect its mangroves. This Muslim village is best known for its pier where tourists can take a speedboat to Koh Yao, but if visitors stop to take a look, they’ll see an area steeped in history.

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At one time, Bang Rong served as a transport and trade hub, but today it is a sleepy fishing village surrounded by lush mangrove forest. However, it has not always been so. According to Prasert Ritraksa, president of the Baan Bang Rong Community Based Tourism Club, just over 20 years ago the area was devoid of trees, after a government program incited residents to cut them down so they could be transformed into charcoal and shipped abroad. This caused the fish and crab population to collapse and left the fishermen without a means of earning an income.

It was then that Khun Prasert decided to restore the mangroves by combining reseeding and planting young trees. Today, most experts recommend re-wild on replanting because it creates healthier and more biodiverse forests, but back then, replanting was the only thing everyone knew about.

The process was slow at first and met with little enthusiasm from other community members. The project began in 1999 and cost a total of around 20,000 baht.

The timing was right because in 2004 the tsunami hit. But, unlike other villages, the mangroves supported some of the weight of the water rushing through it and helped prevent Bang Rong from flooding worse than it did. It also saved lives by preventing debris from tearing the community apart.

The community tourism project started seven years ago and includes a cruise through the mangrove forest on a long-tail boat or kayak, a cooking lesson, pineapple harvesting, coconut picking, the visit of a rubber plantation and the release of crabs with their eggs in the seagrass.

Khun Prasert says the aim is to teach visitors about traditional Thai culture.

Discover the project by visiting BangRongConnect.com


Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist who works with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.

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